Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Office Season Finale

It was refreshing to see that they could keep the momentum going for an entire hour after I complained last week about how flabby their super-sized episodes seem. Every minute was enjoyable this time around, though. If you're not watching this, you're definitely missing out on one of the better shows to hit American airwaves in a while. Luckily, it's not too late to catch up through the magic and wonder of DVDs or iTunes.

If you haven't seen this episode yet, you'll probably not want to read any more of this. Spoilers ho!

So it looks like our musings and predictions from last week's posting weren't exactly correct. If the short scene at the end is to be believed, Ryan has gone from being a temp to upper management in less than two years. You have to wonder how long Michael can hold out as branch manager if his direct superior is someone who knows how lousy he is at his job.

Karen was either dumped off camera by Jim or has disappeared into a mass of her old friends in NYC never to be seen again. I'm not sure how either of those scenarios gets her off of The Office and on to her new show for next fall. Perhaps she'll be back for an episode or two at the beginning of next year to resolve this stuff.

And of course, Jam fans should be happy as long as they ignore the fact that Jenna Fischer (Pam) broke four bones in her back at a party last week. She'll allegedly be ready for the start of next season, but I hope she wasn't planning on doing anything during her hiatus.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sweet Land

Okay, so I never got back to my Thursday night TV post to update it with thoughts about Grey's Anatomy. It turns out I either watch way too much TV to do something like that or I just don't write fast enough. Whatever the case may be, I think I'll save any in-depth commentary on television until new shows/seasons start up in the summer and fall.

One thing I was intending to mention in that update is that you need to see Sweet Land when it comes out on DVD on July 7th. What does that movie have to do with Grey's Anatomy? It stars Elizabeth Reaser, the newly named Rebecca Pope (Eva, the amnesiac new mother from the ferry accident), as a German mail-order bride coming over to rural Minnesota after World War I. It's a wonderful character drama about what it means to be an outsider in a new environment, and is based on a short story by one of Meaghan's professors from Bemidji State. We saw it in last year's RIFG Film Festival and could not recommend it more.

Fickle Dog

Anybody have any ideas on how to feed a dog that doesn't like to eat? Mealtime with Zelda has been either really easy or like pulling teeth lately. Most of the time after you dish up a meal for her she'll sniff it once, look up at you, and start wagging her tail as if she doesn't understand what you want her to do.

We've tried occasionally mixing in new sauces or treats to try to entice her. That'll work the first couple of times we try it, but the novelty soon wears off. Other times, if we can get Scully (one of our cats) to show some interest in Zelda's food, Zelda will be protective enough to eat her meal.

The classic way to solve this problem is to show your dog that food is only available for a limited time by removing it after 10-15 minutes. This would be a good strategy except for the fact that Zelda has this awesome tendency to hork up disgusting digestive fluids if she hasn't eaten in awhile. Believe me when I say I've been woken up too many times in the morning by the sound of her stomach pumping juices out into our life.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Mail Musings

Well it took about two full months, but I finally got a postcard in the mail that my friend Frank sent from Amsterdam. Apparently the Dutch postal service isn't the fastest at getting stuff over the ocean. There were a few bends and a small tear in it, so maybe they tried turning it into a paper airplane and throwing it over here first.

In other postal news, the regular rate for mail has now gone up to 41 cents so there's even more reason to pay your bills online if you're not already. Additionally, the USPS is introducing this concept of the "Forever Stamp". You buy it now for 41 cents and it'll still be good no matter how high they raise the postage in the future, kind of like those gasoline co-ops where some lucky people locked in $1.00/gal prices some years ago. Only I don't know how many letters I'm really liable to be sending in my lifetime.

89? Good Grief!

There I was, thinking I was well on my way to becoming an advanced member of the Athletic World gym. I'd cruised through the toughest events with scores in the high-80s/low 90s, and I had just one to go: Rafting.

Rafting involves dodging various obstacles as you careen down a river on your trusty whitewater raft. I consider it to be the easiest event as it doesn't require any fast running action, but I teetered back on my heels at just the wrong time catching a board in the face which knocked me clean off into the river. That one mistake saddled me with an 82 for the event.

The NES thought long and hard about what to give me for the full run. After carrying the one and dividing by 17, it decided that my performace was worthy of an 89. I pleaded with it for awhile, but it just laughed at me, played some cheery music, and advanced on to the certificate screen.

Better luck next time!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The New Place

We stayed our first night in the new place last night. After trying out our keys and taking a quick look around the place, we unloaded what little stuff we brought up with us and our dog, Zelda. It had to happen some time, but I'd forgotten how rough it was when she moved in with us after staying her first summer with the Harrises. Everything was a strange new smell or a weird new sound, and she often spent the majority of the night growling at all of the newness around her.

Last night was a lot like that. We had the windows open to cool the place down, and she could hear the kids who were playing out in the street until at least 1:00 AM. Every ten minutes or so, she would walk over to the window and give a growl or a concerned bark at what was going on. She was never really excessive; it just happened a lot. Eventually it either got quiet enough out there or she just got too tired, so she passed out around 2:30 or 3:00. At least, that's the last time I remember seeing on the clock.

This morning was a lot better though. Some friendly people and their 3 dogs (a golden retriever, Chelsea, and two little terriers, mother Emmy and son Rogan) happened to be walking by when I was taking Zelda out for her morning pee in our new fenced-in yard. Everyone seemed to be hitting it off through the fence, so we decided to let them get together for an impromptu play date. After they established some quick boundaries, everyone had a great time fetching a tennis ball for 20 minutes or so. I got Ashley's (the dog owner) number so we'll hopefully be setting up more play dates with them in the future. I hear it costs $50 to get a dog park pass in Minneapolis, so it's a good thing our yard is so nice.

We took some quick measurements around the place, and found that we'll likely have to take some doors off of hinges when we move in. Even then, everything we bring will have to pass through a 28-in wide chokepoint right near our entrance. You gotta love older houses. Sounds like we'll have to spend some time either deconstructing some furniture beforehand or trading in some of our stuff for a newer, sleeker model. Suggestions?

I'm getting anxious to just get the move over with, even though I know we're far from having everything ready to go yet.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Thursday Nights = Good TV

Last night was another one of those TV heavy nights for us, but with so many good shows on there's only so much you can do. My Name is Earl, The Office, Scrubs, and Grey's Anatomy all reached or are nearing the end of their seasons so the payoffs for some long developing plotlines are finally starting to arrive.

The 3 NBC shows were all "super-sized" again last night which generally means that they were all padded with extended sequences that would have likely been cut out of a normal length episode. It seems that TV comedy writers often have a difficult time coming up with more than 22 minutes of solid material a week.

That being said, I think My Name is Earl came through with the best show despite it typically being my least favorite of the three. The humor of Earl is often in the little things, so if there's enough of them in an episode I'll enjoy it even if the focus of the particular episode isn't as good. Best scene honors probably go to the fantastic "Robbing the Deaf!" flashback sequence when Earl realizes that Joy's deaf lawyer (Marlee Matlin) is on his list.

Joy finally had her trial for the truck she stole way back in the first episode of the season, and in true absurdist fashion she was represented by a deaf lawyer, a Chinese sign-language interpreter, and an African Mandarin interpreter. For the first time ever, I come away thinking about this show's soundtrack. The trial was highlighted by a montage scored with The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and Earl's long walk to his jail cell after confessing was accompanied by The Animals' fantastic rendition of "House of the Rising Sun". Thumbs up to the surprise reappearance of the always great Giovanni Ribisi (pictured) as Earl's new cellmate. It'll be interesting to see where they go with the show next year now that our main character is serving a two-year sentence.

The Office was good, but not as great as it's been in recent memory. I think the show always tends to suffer a bit when they leave the workplace environment, and the Survivor concept just wasn't funny enough to carry the whole episode. Jam backers (Jim + Pam) probably had a good time, though. I know Meaghan did. After walking across fire, Pam finally talked to Jim about the events from the end of last season. We've re-entered solid will they/won't they territory here, so hopefully it doesn't derail the show too much. Although as long as Dwight continues to be hilarious you won't see me complaining. He's always at his best when being put in his place by Michael. In this case, his place was curled up in the fetal position on a bed of hot coals.

Scrubs continues to stagnate a bit. Meaghan and I have been watching the first two seasons on DVD recently, and it's surprising how fresh and funny they are in comparison to the current episodes. At this point, it feels like the writers are largely servicing the characters that they've created. This tends to happen with most long-running comedies that I've watched (see Friends for a good example), but the good ones don't abandon their core elements in the process. Scrubs is all about over-the-top physical comedy, good music, lectures by Dr. Cox, and stories centered around the patients of Sacred Heart.

This week pretty much boiled down to J.D.'s current bout of woman trouble. Does he go back to Kim (the doctor he knocked up at the end of last season) or does he try to break up Elliot's engagement in an effort to rekindle their on-again/off-again relationship? Blah. J.D. has primarily been a good guy throughout the show, so the thought that he would even consider the second choice is a bit strange. Meaghan vows to be done with the show if he gets back together with Elliot. It seems that they've managed to overplay the classic will they/won't they aspect of the show.

Still to come: Grey's Anatomy

Feel free to chat about these or other shows from last night in the comments. I'm particularly interested in knowing if anyone watched the premiere of "Traveler". It was on after Grey's Anatomy, but we forgot to tape it. It stars Pyro from X-Men 2 and 3, and looked pretty interesting from the commercials. Apparently I'll get a second chance to catch this. They're going to re-air the pilot in it's regular timeslot Wednesday, May 30th at 9:00 Central on ABC.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Amuzing Race

The Amber Tower and HarrisWorld are going to join forces on Saturday, June 9th to participate in the Amuzing Race to benefit the Rochester Public Library Foundation. It's supposed to be a crazy, local version of the "Amazing Race" (CBS Sundays) in which we'll drive all over Olmsted County for a morning of chasing clues and taking the physical challenge. I'm hoping it'll be like the travelling questions from Kaleidoquiz (for all of you Iowa Staters out there).

We're not allowed to use any maps or outside help. Since I know where nothing outside of Rochester is, I guess I know what I'll be studying for the next couple of weeks. What I need from you, gentle readers, are ideas for a team name. I'll be accepting entries until next Wednesday, May 16th at high noon. Submit your best and brightest ideas. If you came up with the chosen name, you'll win something great.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Feel the Burn

Remember college? I sure do. It was about 5 years and 10-15 pounds ago. Now I'm not about to say I'm fat or horribly out of shape, but I just remember a time when I used to be more active. I had more energy. I didn't need as much sleep. Life was good.

In an effort to regain some of that, I'm installing a new regimen. I'll alternate simple calisthenics with cardio and couple that with rock climbing (Meaghan's vice) twice a week. Since I don't really enjoy running to get my heart rate up and I don't have a gym membership so I can't go swimming, I've decided to try to have some fun with this. That's right. I'm pulling out the good old Nintendo Power Pad. If my friend Brett can use Dance Dance Revolution to stay in shape then I can certainly do this.

The only game I have for it so far is Athletic World although I hope to get more. Attendees of my semi-regular Old School Game Nights probably remember this game with disgust, but I think it'll be a pretty useful tool. If you enter your age and sex the game scales the difficulty of the exercises for you. It also scores you based on how quickly you're able to complete each exercise, so I'll be able to track my progress objectively. There are five different exercises in all and they vary from running and jumping to crouching and hopping on one foot. It can be pretty hard on your quads and calves if you're trying to get a good score.

I'm only a Beginner so far, and my highest score is the 85/100 I achieved earlier tonight. I was pretty stoked as I even 100-pointed the "Dark Tunnel" which involves a lot of rapid running in place to get your character up some steep inclines. My goal is to get at least a 90 on Beginner before switching over to the Advanced level. Wish me luck.

The Astounding Wolf-Man

It was Free Comic Book Day last Saturday, so I expect that all of you ran out to your local comic shop to pick up some free swag, right? Right. If you did, you may have picked up the first issue of Robert Kirkman's latest offering from Image Comics, "The Astounding Wolf-Man". For those of you not in the know, Kirkman is the guy who's written recent classics like Invincible, The Walking Dead, and Battle Pope. Yes, that last one is as silly (and sacrilegious) as it sounds.

There's not much to write home about, as it's your typical werewolf story: man gets bitten, man changes into wolf-man at the full moon, wolf-man gets trained by a vampire (wha?). Since it was free I thought I'd take a look, but I don't think there's anything here that's going to make me spend $3+ every month. I probably enjoyed the art more than the story. It has a bold, angular style and some nice monochromatic pallettes for the wolf-man pages. This one in particular makes me think of Ralph from Rampage scaling one of the many buildings.

I wish I had a scanner. If I did, I would show you that yesterday's prediction of a bunny being next came true. I couldn't help but laugh when the wolf-man bites the head off of some poor unsuspecting rabbit while roaming the countryside. You gotta love coincidences.

Anyway, my advice is to skip it. I'll try to talk about a better comic next time.

Me and My Sister

So we did end up going to the RIFG Film Festival last night and seeing Me and My Sister. Like most foreign films, it spanned a wide range of emotions refusing to be pigeonholed into a single genre. I enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone who likes quiet, thoughtful movies and doesn't mind subtitles.

The movie was about two French sisters who haven't seen each other in three years. Louise is a beautician from the country who's in Paris for the weekend to follow her dream of becoming a writer. She has a novel that she's sent to countless publishers, and has finally gotten a meeting with one of them. She's warm, talkative, and friendly. Martine is a jobless member of Paris' upper middle class. She's stuck with a husband and son that she doesn't love, but lives off of his considerable wealth. Cold, angry, and depressed, she is the opposite of her sister and is, in fact, embarrassed by her. See if you can tell which one is which.

What follows is essentially an exercise in comparing these two styles of living through the lens of their relationships with each other, their family, and Martine's friends. Unlike the fable of the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, you're not to be convinced that one style of living is necessarily superior to the other. It's instead a contrast of what it means to follow your dreams and living life without any dreams at all. In one of the more telling (and amusing) scenes, Louise and Martine are at the opera to see "Romeo et Juliette". We don't see any of the action on stage, but what we do see is an extended side-by-side closeup of the two sisters as Juliette performs her aria. Louise is completely caught up in the moment, near a happy and tearful breakdown as she wordlessly mouths along, "I want to live in this dream which intoxicates me". Martine is disinterested, barely looking at the stage as she fidgets impatiently with her necklace.

Movies like this often inspire me to go out and start "living my dream" or "making a difference". Maybe it's just me, but I'm not entirely sure what it means to me to do either of those things. Do I have dreams? I don't know. I have a way that I want to be living my life, so maybe that's enough for now.

How about you? Are you living your dream? Feel free to comment. Or not. Whatever.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Humiliation Galore

Well it had to happen someday. I finally lost a game in the NHL '99 season I have going with some friends. Not just lost really... destroyed. Matt's tougher, faster Dallas team took down my poor Sharks 6-1, and as much as I can claim that I was reaching for a Circus Peanut during that first goal, the other 5 seemed pretty legit to me.

On the brighter side, it's a good time to be a Detroit ex-pat in the real world. The Tigers are on an 8-game winning streak (take that Twins' fans) and the Red Wings are in the conference finals. Heck, there haven't even been any riots or fires there in quite awhile. At least, not in the city itself.

"Rice Man" to Open Friday

Just a quick blurb to let readers know that the restaurant affectionately named "Rice Man" is supposed to be opening on Friday. You can check the details at the Post-Bulletin business blog. We'll have to get some people together and go check it out.

Rochester International Film Festival

Last year, we got a pass and went to 5 movies at the RIFF. This year, we'll be lucky if we make it to one. It looks like we're currently targeting tonight's 7:00 showing of a French film called Me and My Sister. I'll be sure to let you know how it was if we go.

It turns out that I was looking at the wrong list of movies on Sunday when we were considering going to an earlier movie. For whatever reason, Google's first few results are for the festival from 5 years ago. Silly Google! If I had been looking at the right list, I probably would have wanted to go. It turns out that former Top 5er Sarah Polley's (Go, the Disney Channel's "Road to Avonlea") directorial debut Away from Her was showing. It's been getting rave reviews ever since Sundance and is on the short list of films that I currently want to see.

Luckily, it's coming next week to one of the art theaters in the big city. Since we're moving there soon, there should be a good chance we'll get to see it.

Dungeons, Dragons, and Dorks

Last night was my weekly get together with friends to play D and D. I'm currently the DM of our little group, despite my tenuous grasp on the rules that make up the game. Not much of note happened. The party continues to spam the heal wand on their trek through Baron Harkyn's castle in their quest to recover the Star of Tochiro. They took down a couple of smallish blue dragons in a smoke-filled lair, but not before their erstwhile goblin companion Grignak (a cookie to the first person to spot the reference) was felled by a killer line of lightning.

Anyway, the real reason I'm talking about this is because we learned two of my friend Mike's lifelong goals: 1) To beat Space Quest II 2) To play any of the Leisure Suit Larry games

As luck would have it, the all-consuming conglomerate Vivendi released some reasonably priced compilations just last year. Keep that in mind come birthday time, friends of Mike! Come to think of it, I would probably even like these. I have great memories of playing the first Space Quest on our trusty old Apple IIc back in the day.

What's Next? A Bunny?

Sorry to kick this off with such a morbid topic, but such is life.

Beware! Bad omens abound today. This morning before work I had to pick up not one, but two dead animals from our back yard. For those who have seen our yard you can agree with me that this is no small feat to pack that much death into such a tiny space.

The first victim was a squirrel that the missus noticed yesterday evening. It appears to have fallen out of the big honkin' tree in the middle of the yard and cracked itself on the ground. I blame the tree. That thing drops branches left and right, so it was probably only a matter of time before it started dropping squirrels. Either that or I'll have to come to grips with the fact that not all squirrels are coordinated enough to walk on branches in trees. I certainly couldn't do it.

Not more than five minutes later I found (with the help of Zelda's nose) a tiny little bird. I don't know what happened to this one, but it was pretty close to the garage. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Monday, May 7, 2007

In the Beginning...

So I guess I've decided to give this blog thing a go. Even if no one ends up reading it, I think it'll be good to have a place to write from time to time. It's late, so I'll keep this to a preview of coming attractions.

Things this blog will cover:
- The great work-at-home experiment (coming to a theater near you on 5/29/07)
- Life in the big city
- Things I watch (TV, movies [1997 Project and all]
- Things I read (books, comic or otherwise)
- Games I play (board, video, sports)
- Things I listen to (music, concerts)
- Things I care about (in the news or otherwise)

Why the Amber Tower? That's my little secret.